Have you ever been in a restaurant when your kid was be-having like he’d been raised by gypsies, and you had absolutely zero patience—zero—because the night before, amorous advances on your wife had resulted in only a sleep-depriving discussion about remodeling the back room, and you felt like tearing off the brat’s spindly arms and beating him over the head with the bloody ends?
That’s how I felt the other afternoon at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. Fortunately for my 4-year-old son, I have an innate sense of politesse. Something told me that bludgeoning a child with his own limbs would be rude to our luncheon companions.
Actually it was an etiquette class for children, something the Mansion periodically offers for kids at least 5 years old. But my boy is mature for his age. I figured he was ready for the concept of multiple forks. So I put the Little Chit in a pair of green plaid pants and an itchy sweater vest because he doesn’t own a dinner jacket.
No sooner did we take our seats in the Pavilion Ballroom with about 20 other pairs of well-appointed parents and kids, mostly of the distaff variety, than the Chit said, "Dad, I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’m ready to go." Then he crawled into my lap and refused to introduce himself to our tablemates. Delicate beads of nervous sweat rose on my brow.
But Dean Fearing made it all better. When the chef came around to say hi, the Chit immediately took to him and launched into a detailed rundown of the operations of his carabiner, without which he refuses to leave the house. The carabiner has a compass so you know where you’re going and a digital clock with a stopwatch so you can tell how long things take. Then the Chit told Fearing all about our neighborhood Fourth of July parade and the dog that wore a hat.
Thenceforth, the Chit took the etiquette class like a man. He sat still and kept his mouth shut, giving Daddy a chance to chat up the hot moms at our table. His good manners also drew praise from Mrs. Levering, our grandmotherly instructor. He wasn’t exactly paying attention to her lecture on American vs. Continental forking, but he was staying in his chair. In front of the whole class, Mrs. Levering asked the Chit what his secret was. "I know to keep my legs under the table at all times," he said. The moms loved it.
By the time we’d finished our soup, the Chit was staring at his carabiner, hoping its clock would move more quickly. When the waiters delivered our main course, he said, "Aw, Dad, do we have to eat two lunches?" Again, the moms loved it. Polite, witty—the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
As he worked his magic, the moms and I got on swimmingly. It came time for the adults to ask questions, and we collaborated on tough etiquette dilemmas to throw at Mrs. Levering:
Where do you put your napkin when you excuse yourself from the table? Alongside your plate—never in your chair.
What about doggie bags in fine restaurants? Perfectly acceptable.
Ah ha! How to handle a wodge of gristle or such that cannot be easily chewed? I guessed that one should stealthily spit it into one’s napkin. But, no. We were all surprised to learn that the proper maneuver is to remove the offending wodge with your fingers and simply place it on the rim of your plate.
That’s when the mom to my right, a woman who looked like she’d attended her share of cotillions, said, "My mother always told me that if it goes in your mouth, you swallow it."
Again, only because of my innate savoir-faire was I able to restrain myself. "Sound advice," I said, and left it at that.
Gold stars all around.